The Passport multi-purpose vehicle seen here was the third and last model produced by the short-lived French manufacturer Hobbycar. Perhaps manufacturer is the wrong term, as even the factory itself liked to remind its customers that nothing was manufactured at the plant – “it simply assembled many components from a multitude of suppliers”. At its peak in the early 1990s, the facility employed a dozen people in sales and marketing, 35 engineers in Research and Development, and 45 in the assembly and paint shops.
Hobbycar was the dream of Francois Wardevoir, an ex-Renault Formula 1 engineer. With his well-funded partner, Serge Desmarais, they built a state-of-the-art high-tech factory in Thenay, France, approximately 200km south of Paris. The first two models were ambitious amphibious cars capable of decent road and water performance, using parts from several manufacturers rolled into a cohesive, if unconventional, vehicle.
The Passport was their attempt to offer a more spacious interior in a compact exterior, different than any MPV that had come before. Pre-wired for telephone and FAX, it could be a rolling office or a vehicle of leisure, offering “the pleasure of total comfort and serene driving assurance.” The all-wheel-drive drivetrain was delicate but fairly straightforward, coming directly from a top-of-the-line Opel Calibra – turbocharged 16V 4-cylinder making 204 HP, and a 6 speed manual transmission. The bodywork was unique, though, with its four parallel-opening, double-pivot doors. Interior appointments were very nice as well, with four individual electrically- heated memory leather bucket seats and alcantara headliner.
Alas, only a few dozen Passports were built (this one is #4) before the factory fell into receivership, and the vehicles and contents sold at auction in late 1996. The factory remains, and is easily found with Google Maps or similar. The test tracks, lake, and buildings appear in good repair, and a large digital printing company now resides in one of the buildings.
Country of Origin: France (Thenay)
Drivetrain Configuration: Front transverse 4-cylinder; four-wheel drive
Engine: Inline 16V 4-cylinder, fuel-injected and turbocharged; 204 HP
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top Speed: 220 km/h (137 mph)
Years of Production: 1992-1996
Number Produced: At least 43
Original Cost: 280,000 FF ($ 56,000 approx.)
Designer: Francois Wardevior